The History of the Guitar, Piano, Violin and Trumpet

Learn all about the history of these four iconic instruments!

The History of the Guitar, Piano, Violin and Trumpet

Table of Content

Music is a daily part of modern life. We're all very used to flipping on the radio and hearing songs from across the country and worldwide. Nearly all of those songs feature instruments. In some cases, the instruments are the only thing that creates the music. However, instruments were not always so common. Have you ever thought about the history of the guitar or the history of the piano? Let's explore how these instruments came to be and why they're so popular and widely used in music today.

The History of the Earliest Instruments

For as long as civilization has existed, there has been music. People have always expressed themselves through some type of song. In ancient times, this may have just meant singing and using your hands as instruments to clap along. But over time, people figured out how to use other tools to create new sounds, and instruments were born.

Songwriting: A Time-Tested Tradition

Historians and archeologists agree that songwriting can be dated as far back as 4,000 years ago. As you can imagine, those ancient people didn't sit around in a studio with pen and paper working together to create songs. They sat around their camps and homes and told stories together that eventually evolved into songs.

Some of the oldest instances of songwriting are actually found in the Bible. The religious texts found in Psalms were not only intended to be read, but many of them were intended to be performed as songs.

Unearthing the Ancient Instruments

To bring those ancient songs to life, people realized they needed more instruments than just their hands and feet. They started to craft actual instruments. Here are some of the oldest musical tools in recorded history:

  • Flutes: Early flutes were often made from bones and provided a simple melody that worked well with simple songs. They show the amount of innovation ancient people had to take basic items and turn them into musical assistants.
  • Guitars (Chordophone): The guitar’s ancient ancestor, the chordophone, resonated its strings long before modern guitars were even thought of. These early stringed instruments are the blueprint for the range of guitars we use today.
  • Trumpets:  While they are extremely valued as instruments, trumpets started off as tools of communication. The ancient trumpets were often made from shells or horns.
  • Lyres: These harp-like instruments have been associated with gods, kings, and poets. Their stringed notes have narrated tales of heroism, love, and tragedy for millennia.
  • Harps: Much like the lyre, the harp has its roots in ancient times. Its serene tones have made it a staple in various cultures around the world.
  • Shofar: Made from a ram's horn, the Shofar holds religious significance for several cultures. While not used in modern music as often, it helped inspire the design of other musical horns.

The History of the Guitar: From Ancient Strings to Modern Melodies

The guitar is one of the most recognizable instruments in the world. People in nearly every culture use it to create amazing music, from rock songs in the Americas to flamenco rhythms in Spain. It has been a part of the musical landscape for centuries. Let's look back on the history of this versatile instrument.

Spanish Beginnings and Ancient Ancestors

The guitar owes its beginnings to both the chordophone and the lute. Early guitars were more narrow in shape, and they provided a distinct tonal quality that moved them forward from the lute and chordophone. In 16th-century Spanish culture, musicians took this to the next level and began to use the guitar in new ways and coax new sounds from it. This became the basis for modern guitar playing around the world.

Tuning Through Time

As the guitar evolved, there was a major change in its tuning. During the 16th century, the standard tuning for guitars was C–F–A–D. But by the 19th century, the guitar featured six strings and adopted the tuning that we now know today of E-A-D-G-B-E. With this change in tuning, the instrument became more versatile, and artists were able to create a broader range of melodies and chords.

Antonio Torres is largely credited with making these design changes to the instrument that allowed it to be what we know it today. He made the guitar larger, therefore accommodating more strings. That design decision amplified the guitar's volume and resonance so it became a larger part of ensemble musical compositions, altering the course of the history of guitar.

A Symphony of Types

Over time, the guitar evolved into various types to cater to different musical styles and preferences:

  • Metal Strung Guitar: Known for its bright and metallic sound, it's a favorite among many folk musicians.
  • Cello Guitar: With its deep resonance, it beautifully merges the sounds of a guitar and cello.
  • Steel Guitar: Often played horizontally, this guitar is a staple in country and Hawaiian music.
  • Electric Guitar: Rock, jazz, and blues music have all come to rely on the sound of the electric guitar.
  • Acoustic Guitar: Relying on its body to produce sound, this is the classic choice for singer-songwriters and classical musicians.

Modern Techniques and Global Recognition

As the guitar evolved, the playing style did too. Francisco Tárrega is a key figure in the history of guitar, often credited with the modern playing techniques that most guitarists use worldwide today. He transcribed the works of legends such as Bach and Mozart for the guitar. This allowed for the guitar to be introduced into grande concert venues and elevate its status.

The History of the Piano: A Journey from Monochord to Modern Marvel

The piano has become a symbol of grace, serenity, and versatility over centuries of use. It is considered an elegant instrument, but few people know about its evolution over the years. Here is a look at how it came to be a part of the everyday musical tapestry.

From Monochord to Harpsichord: The Ancestry of the Piano

The piano's lineage begins with the monochord, a simple instrument that consists of a single string stretched over a soundboard. This rudimentary invention set the stage for more intricate stringed instruments later in the history of the piano.

In the 11th century, the dulcimer came about as a combination of Middle Eastern and European origins. It is often considered the piano's most direct ancestor. When played, hammers would strike the strings, creating a sound that puts you in the mind of the modern piano tonality.

The 14th century brought about the clavichord. This instrument allowed for control over volume based on how hard a key was pressed, a characteristic in today’s pianos. Ranging from four to five octaves, it offered musicians a broader spectrum of notes to play.

By the 1500s, Italy saw the rise of the harpsichord. This instrument resembles modern-day pianos in many ways and paved the way for modern keyboard instruments. It created sound by having quills plucking the strings rather than having hammers striking the strings, giving a different sound than what musicians were used to.

Strings and Percussion: The Dual Nature of the Piano

When most people think of stringed instruments, they think of guitars and violins, and when they think of percussion instruments, they often think of drums. The piano combines these two methods of music into one. Melodies in a piano are produced thanks to the vibrations of the strings. But those vibrations are caused by the action of hammers striking the strings. Therefore, the unique blend of string-style musical production and percussion musical production gives the piano its unique nature.

Bartolomeo Cristofori: The Father of the Modern Piano

So, how did the world make the leap from the harpsichord to the piano? Historians give credit to an Italian named Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655 - 1731). He created a mechanism that allowed the instrument strings to be struck with different forces so artists could produce soft or loud sounds based on how they hit the keyboard. This evolution changed the way people were able to play the piano.

The History of the Violin: Strumming Through Time

For centuries, violins have inspired artists at every level, from masters at the orchestra to school-age children who are learning to play their first instrument. The violin has an elegant form and a unique sound, and its notes can touch the hearts of people across the world. The history of the violin is one that's full of adaptation and innovation and spans the centuries.

From Rabab to Rebec: The Violin’s Ancient Ancestors

The inspiration for the violin goes back to the 15th century. Arabia, Spain, and France had diverse landscapes that set the stage for the development of the modern violin. In these areas, artists were using stringed instruments like the rabab and the rebec. As they tinkered with these instruments, they discovered a new design and tonality while exploring different ways to use a bow across the strings.

In the Far East, the influence of the rabab is seen in China's erhu and the morin khuur of Mongolia. The essence of the violin lives in each region in its own way.

The violin's closest evolutionary relative is the viol, which emerged in 14th-century Europe. With its f-shaped sound holes and arched body, the viol offered a glimpse into the future of stringed instruments.

The Birth of the Modern Violin

Around 1550, the world witnessed the development of the modern violin. This new instrument had a distinct shape, size, and sound that were balanced to give the right mix of volume, tonality, and playability for modern artists. It was more refined and gained a following.

Masters of Craftsmanship: Andre Amati and Gasparo di Bertolotti

The popularity of the violin can also be traced to the amazing craftsman who helped make an instrument that was impeccable. Andre Amati and Gasparo di Bertolotti are among the leaders. They crafted violins that looked like art but also had robust sound and perfect tonality. They laid the base for future violin makers.

The History of the Trumpet: From Ancient Calls to Jazz Halls

The sound of the trumpet can bring up medieval imagery in our minds, and for good reason. These instruments have been used for centuries both for governmental purposes and in musical experimentation. Let's look at the history of the trumpet and how it has evolved.

Echoes from the Past: Trumpets in Ancient Times

As far back as 1500 BC, the ancestors of the trumpet weren't the shiny, brass instruments we recognize today. Instead, people use animal shells or horns to make trumpets. These early trumpets weren't often made for music. They were used for military maneuvers, religious rituals, or ceremonies. Trumpets also were used as communication tools in ancient societies. They were valued for their ability to produce loud and far-reaching sounds, not for their musical notes.

The Renaissance of the Trumpet: A Turn Toward Music

With the advancements in metalwork techniques during the Renaissance and Middle Ages, the trumpet evolved. Once craftsmen began fashioning trumpets out of metals, the tone of the notes from the horn vastly improved. People began to see the musical value of the trumpet. Legendary composers such as Bach, Handel, Mozart, and Vivaldi started using the trumpet in their works.

The Path to the Modern Trumpet

The next big step in the history of the trumpet comes with Anton Weidinger. He designed the keyed trumpet in the 18th century, giving the instrument a wider range of notes and better playability. In the 19th century, Heinrich David Stolzel and Friedrich Bluhmel invented the valve system that is still used in modern trumpets. These innovations led to wider adoption of the instrument.

Jazz and the Trumpet

Jazz truly made the trumpet shine. The 20th century saw jazz legends such as Louis Armstrong using the instrument in ways never seen before. The jazz era elevated the trumpet into the upper tier of instruments.

Embracing the History of Musical Instruments

Our rich world of musical instruments didn't appear overnight. When you look at the history of stringed instruments and the history of brass instruments, you see a world of innovation and creativity that continues to grow. The best way to honor and embrace that history is to make use of these instruments and play the music they are known for. Get sheet music for your favorite instrument at Musicnotes.